A 'day and night difference'
'Ears wide open'
Report by Andreas Frangenberg
Robert Ewoldt is a corn and soybean farmer in Iowa. He also is Director of the Iowa Soybean Association since 2015, and he had his ears wide open when friends told him about the performance of the Schumacher System. The talks about a ‘day and night difference’ in durability of the cutterbar and the smoother running of the system made him decide to also retrofit the 30 foot flex header of his John Deere 9760 STS combine. We were able to watch the retrofitting and to talk to Rob Ewoldt on his farm.
Robert (Rob) Ewoldt, his wife and their ten and eight year old boys live on the Rafter E. Ranch LLC in Davenport, Iowa. Born in 1973, Rob had thought about becoming a teacher and hence went to a college to get his professional career started. Somewhat disillusioned after two years and following intensive advice from friends who were teachers at that time, Rob changed his mind and started a fresh attempt in agriculture. “To be honest, I have not been one of the busiest guys at college. I spent quite some time working on a farm nearby, and those folks taught me much of what I knew when I started my own farming business”, he recalls.
Four miles north of the Mississippi
When the opportunity arose to rent land and set up his own farming business close to the farm of his parents, it did not take Rob long to seize the opportunity. All the land is rented, and just the machinery is owned by Rob and his family. Funny enough, this farm is one of the very few places where people can say that they live and farm north of the Mississippi river. Going from North to South, there is a bend in the course of the Mississippi river in that area. “Just as the course of the river, also my path was not completely straight. But I have the perfect job now”, Rob says with a happy smile. “Every day is different, I am my own boss, I love challenges and I love finding solutions that are environmentally and economically sound at the same time”.
Rob aims at producing the best result in the most environmentally friendly way. That does not necessarily imply the highest possible yields. As 90 percent of the farms’ land are classified as highly erodible land (hil) and drain into the nearby Mississippi river via a little creek, it takes quite some considerations on how to use the 1,100 acres of arable land with as little environmental effect as possible. Roughly 50 percent corn, 40 percent soybeans and 10 percent alfalfa, to be marketed as feed for horses, are grown on the farm. “Under the circumstances given, we plant about 150,000 seeds per acre and have a target crop stand of roughly 140,000 plants per acre. Planting usually takes place between 25th April and 10th May”, explains Rob.
Being so close to the Mississippi river never made him consider building enough grain silos to store all his crops. Only 10 to 20 percent of the corn will remain on the farm for a while, whereas all soybeans are directly delivered to the river terminals at the time of harvest. “You can always have a different view on having own storage or not, but I am convinced that having no own grain silos makes me a better marketer”, he says.
Looking for new markets
Rob does not feel like someone who would be happy watching others taking initiative and responsibility. So in 2015, he stood up for election as Director of the Iowa Soybean Association for a first three year term. “I felt that I can move things for fellow soybean farmers and myself in that position. At the association, we do a lot with regard to new marketing opportunities, we do a lot with regard to profitability, and we have scientists doing research in both fields”, explains Rob.
One of the initiatives of the Iowa Soybean Association has led to developing a completely new market in China. In cooperation with Chinese farmers, a fish farm was set up as a model project. This farm exclusively imports Iowa soybeans as feed for the fish, and since this project evolved even better than expected, 30 to 40 of these fish farms have since followed. Rob explains: “Not all of these farms will import and use soy from Iowa or the US, but we succeeded in creating a completely new market, and that offers substantial opportunities for American farmers.”
The Iowa Soybean Association is also involved in a Californian biodiesel project. “We do a lot of domestic work as well, one being the use of soy oil for biodiesel. Different blends are currently tested: between 25 to 30 percent of soybean oil are added to biodiesel, and if that will work well and be approved by the strict Californian authorities, this will open new opportunities in other states as well”, believes Rob.
Talking to urban people
In addition to developing new markets, Rob and the Iowa Soybean Association are very active in communicating with and teaching of urban society. “We need to explain what we do. We need to explain that we do things as good as we can in open systems such as soil, air and water. And we need to explain, that wrong policies not only hinder the work of the farmers and the development of their farms but also make food more expensive”, highlights Rob one aspect of the association’s work.
Amongst the 70 to 75 persons working for the Iowa Soybean Association, there are farmers, scientists, environmentalists and also people who talk to and educate consumers in grocery stores. “If we want to get support, understanding and acceptance from the public, without them suffering from a severe food crisis first, we must go out and speak to them again and again”, is one of Rob’s messages. “We have to explain, not hide, what we do, because urban people do not have a clue where their food comes from.”
Eager to get going
Whilst Rob spoke about his farm and the work of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ron Thompson, Jeff Corlis and Casey Sander, all three from Group Schumacher, retrofitted the 30 foot 930 F flex header on Rob’s John Deere 9760 STS combine. This retrofitting included guards, knife sections, cutterbars as well as top and bottom rollers. “After talking to my friends, I am really looking forward to using the new system for my soybeans this year. My buddies told me there is less wear, operation is so much smoother and quieter, and cutting goes so much easier. I can hardly wait to see all that happen on my combine”, says Rob.
And his joyful anticipation even grew further when Ron Thompson, Senior Consultant of Group Schumacher, presented the ultimate ordeal for the newly installed technology: a massive wooden beam deliberately being held into the running knife section. The only one who suffered from the experiment was the wooden beam itself, as it was shredded into bits and pieces. With this remarkable demonstration in mind, Rob now knows what his friends were saying when they spoke about the ‘day and night difference’...